Saturday, 12 December 2015

Book review: The Art of Equestria (Mary Jane Begin)

The Art of Equestria front cover
I suppose a Twilight-themed cover was kind of inevitable
Mary Jane Begin has been best known in the My Little Pony fandom for her Under the Sparkling Sea, a large-format picture book containing a fairly simple text but truly beautiful artwork. A second book in similar vein is due next year, but before that she's brought us The Art of Equestria. This is a substantial tome which can be obtained for £13.71 from The Book Depository, a nice discount from its £18.99 RRP. But is it worth the price? Follow me past the break to find out!

Yes. Yes, it is. Go and buy it now, then come back and read the rest of this review.

The Art of Equestria is a substantial hardback, measuring about 25 cm square and featuring slightly more than 200 pages, which are well printed on good quality paper. Not huge when set against some of the other art books around, such as those in the Disney universe, but certainly pretty hefty by Pony standards. The front cover features – inevitably – Twilight, flying above Equestria. I don't find it as striking as the cover of 2013's The Elements of Harmony, but it does the job.

Inside, we start with a foreword from Jayson Thiessen and a slightly longer introduction from Mary Jane Begin herself. Both relentlessly positive, as you'd expect, but that's fine for a book like this. The main part of the book is split into eight chapters, each dealing with a different fact of Pony's artistic universe, from "Pony Evolution" through the likes of "Creatures and Mythical Beasts" to "Pony Revolution". Nothing to do with Starlight Glimmer, that one: it's about our fandom.

Lauren Faust interview and sketches
Oh look, Logan's chosen a Fluttershy page as an example.
Rather than saving the most exciting part until last, The Art of Equestria serves it up early on. For the first time, we get to see plenty of Lauren Faust's early notes and sketches, and they're almost uniformly fascinating. I'd love to know, for example, what the reason for proto-Rainbow's days-long disappearances was! This section also includes a long interview with Faust, who does sidestep the odd question but provides plenty of detail her The Elements of Harmony piece omitted.

The meat of the book takes a detailed look at the ponies themselves, their variously villainous foes, Equestria (the land they love). We get some gratuitous, but still fun, looks at the main characters' facial expressions, a look at their homes (apparently Rainbow's is officially "the Cloudominium" – hmm; I'll stick with "Cloud House", thanks) and more design sketches, covering the likes of Zecora and King Sombra. Most of the series' main locations get a dedicated section, too.

There are details of why things look as they do sprinkled through the book, but Chapter Six, "Behind the Scenes" – while it sadly features no gossip about which VA really loves ketchup sandwiches – does include spotlights on a number of specific episodes, with reproductions of original storyboard pages for a few of them. Most notably, we get the climactic fight sequence between Twilight and Tirek from "Twilight's Kingdom", including the controversially-deleted "Twi hits Tirek in the face" scene.

"Twilight's Kingdom" storyboard detail
Insert my usual reminder that Daring Do was allowed to kick a kitten in the face
I'm not absolutely certain whether this is the first officially licensed book to include the word "brony", but it's notable anyway. The problem of how to show off fanart in an official publication is cleverly sidestepped by using pictures from one of the WeLoveFine contests. The fandom's creative output – one of the things that makes it so special – is acknowledged to a reasonable extent (though Meghan McCarthy's 2014 tweets remain the only nod to fanfic from officialdom).

Okay, let's be honest: the book is not – quite – flawless. It's a slight shame not to see a spread devoted to the architecture of the Crystal Empire. There's the occasional inconsistency (we get "Thunderhooves" and "Thunder Hooves" on the same page). There are even one or two actual mistakes: Twilight certainly did not become an alicorn princess in the S4 premiere! All of them minor; all of them unimportant in the great scheme of things.

The Art of Equestria ranks alongside The Elements of Harmony as a book that every serious pony fan should own. Like that volume, it's about as far from a cheap cash-in as you can get: it's very clearly been a labour of love for all concerned, and you can feel that devotion every time you pick it up. There's only one rating this book was ever going to get, and it's given with joy. The Art of Equestria is superb and an essential purchase. Want a Hearth's Warming present idea? This is it.

Cloudsdale design spread
Cloudsdale by night (right) is a particularly nice image
  • Very well designed and nice to handle
  • Good quality paper and reproduction
  • Lots of fine large-format artwork to linger over
  • Lauren Faust's early sketches are gold dust
  • Storyboard sequences are fascinating
  • The odd nugget of brand new lore
  • The greatest print acknowledgement yet of our fandom
  • Nothing that actually matters


  1. Discovered this book at Barnes and Noble and I'm glad to hear this book was great :D

    I'm going to try to get a copy when I can :D

  2. I've got a copy of this book right now on my lap as I type this, and it is just as great as you say it is, it's cool looking at the screencaps, all the storyboards, concept art, etc.

    The only "neigh" I have is more of a disagreement with something Matt Mattus said on page 34 when he said "Even though the ponies are like family to me now, I've watched them grow over the years from the simplicity of random names such as Gingersnap or Minty, to slightly less random names with brief profiles such as 'Mihty-who loves to collect socks,' to these more complex characters that have real personalities. Today the characters are truly more relatable not all sugar and spice and everything nice. These characters have real three-dimensional traits just as real people do, complete with quirks, faults and tempers."

    The reason I disagree is because the early ponies in their own generations, while they weren't as complex and deep as the FiM ones, they still had their own actual personalities and characters in them too. In G1 for example, Firefly was a daredevil, Twilight was motherly and protective, Applejack and Fizzy both were clumsy but kind hearted, and Shady was mostly in a way down about herself and not that confident, kinda like Fluttershy, and they didn't act all nice all the time, there's one G1 MLP comic where Posey told AJ and Fizzy who almost called an accident (though they didn't let what she said bother them), "You're both stupid!" Not bashing Mattus here, but I'm just disagreeing with him.

    This blog kinda explains about 6 of them here:

    I apologize if I got off topic, but I also hope when the movie is released we'll get a book based on it that's similar to this one.